Ice fishing in Iowa is a popular winter sport that’s fun for anyone! And it’s an exciting winter activity, too—what’s more exhilarating than standing on a frozen lake right above fish?!
The good news is, it doesn’t take expensive gear or expert know-how to try it out. But, of course, safety is the most critical aspect of ice fishing! So, gather your safety equipment and check the ice fishing reports before heading out. Then, grab a fishing buddy, a bucket of gear, and catch some fish! The fish are hungry during the winter, and if you find the right spot, you can hook lots of fish! Read on for more on ice fishing in Iowa.
Table of Contents
- When is it safe to go ice fishing in Iowa?
- Ice Fishing in Iowa
- Ice fishing gear
- Top ice fishing lakes in Iowa
- Iowa Ice Fishing Guides
- More Iowa Ice Fishing Resources and Links
When is it safe to go ice fishing in Iowa?
It’s essential to know the depth and safety of ice before you venture out on your ice fishing adventure. That said, no ice is sure to be safe, so it’s vital to take a few safety items and always go with other people!
According to the Iowa DNR,
- “Four inches of clear blue ice” is the minimum for one adult.
- For more than three people, the ice should be 5-6” thick.
- New ice is better than old ice.
- Ice near trees and vegetation is weaker.
- Discoloration, cracks, & holes indicate unsafe ice.
- Snow insulates the ice and can weaken it.
- Small ponds freeze before lakes and backwaters. Ice on moving water is weaker.
- Early and late winter can yield less stable ice (make sure you test it!).
Test the ice as you make your way out on a pond or lake. First, drill a hole near shore to check the quality of the ice (is it clear, blue, and at least 4”?). Then, if it appears safe, you can venture a bit further and test again. It’s wise to check the ice as you go since the quality and thickness can vary. To check it, drill test holes or use an ice spud bar.
Safety tips for ice fishing
- Go with a friend (even better if your friend has ice fishing experience)
- Check the thickness of the ice and avoid unsafe ice
- Wear a lifevest (or flotation snowmobile suit)
- If you take a sled for your gear, make sure the ice is 5” thick (snowmobiles need over 5” of ice)
- Wear the appropriate clothing
- Take ice picks, a whistle, and a rope
- Don’t drink alcohol while ice fishing
Ice Fishing in Iowa
Experienced anglers probably know the ice fishing basics. But if you’re new to the sport, a little preparation goes a long way. So before you head out on the ice, it’s wise to take the time to prepare!
The good news is, the Iowa DNR has an excellent ice fishing PDF to learn the basics – and it’s free! We recommend reviewing it before your first time on the ice. It has tips, tricks, safety info, fish identification, shelter plans, and more! Also, the teaching modules are excellent for kids.
Don’t forget your Iowa fishing license!
Buy your annual Iowa fishing license online, and review the rules and regulations. Know the length and bag limits before heading out.
Fishing reports for Iowa
The best way to find out about ice fishing conditions in Iowa is through the Iowa DNR’s fishing reports. Sign up for the weekly reports for ice conditions, types of fish that are biting, safety alerts, and more. You can also view the latest DNR fishing reports here.
What fish will you catch?
Anglers most commonly catch the following fish species*:
- Largemouth Bass
- Yellow Perch
- Trout (in stocked lakes)
To learn what’s biting on certain Iowa lakes, see the Iowa DNR fishing report. Another good resource is the Iowa Ice Fishing Facebook group – members report on ice and fishing conditions (and equipment).
*This Iowa DNR PDF has an excellent section for fish identification.
Ice fishing gear
You need a few essential items when ice fishing. Below is the ice fishing gear you’ll want to have along:
- Personal flotation device (wear one!)
- A bucket (can carry equipment, hold fish, and use in an emergency)
- Ice picks or a small board with nails (to help you pull yourself out if you fall in)
- A whistle (in case you need help)
- A rope
- Metal cleats for walking on the ice
- Ice auger, chisel, or a cordless drill (for drilling the hole)
- Ice skimmer (or something to remove ice chips from the hole)
- Ice fishing pole (18-28”) or tip-up, depending on the type of fish you’re after
- Hooks & bait (brightly colored jigs, wax worms, minnows)
- Spring bobbers (and possibly sinkers)
- Needle nose pliers & knife
- Appropriate clothing (and hand/foot warmers)
- Extra, dry clothing, like gloves, socks, and boots just in case
- First-aid supplies
- A rug or cardboard (to stand on)
- Snacks/warm drinks
- Fish finder/sonar if you want help locating fish
What about ice fishing shelters?
Ice shelters can keep you warmer and more comfortable while you’re ice fishing. There are all different kinds of ice huts. Some are quick and easy to set up and take down, like tents. Others are more substantial and usually remain on a lake during ice fishing season.
But before you put a shelter on a lake or pond, make sure it complies with the rules. For example, if you leave a structure on state lakes overnight, you must post your name and address on all sides in large block letters (4” or bigger). You also need to attach reflectors on each side. And you must remove them by February 20, or before the ice begins to melt. (And if you’re on private ground, get permission!).
Top ice fishing lakes in Iowa
Iowa farm ponds, lakes, and river backwaters provide plenty of ice fishing options. We can’t possibly list them all. But, below, we’ll highlight a few of the more popular spots to go ice fishing in Iowa.
Central Iowa has some excellent ice-fishing hot spots, all within an easy drive of Des Moines!
Lakes in northern Iowa are among some of the most popular ice fishing destinations in the state. Below are a few of the many lakes to check out:
- Clear Lake
- Big Spirit Lake
- East and West Okoboji Lakes
- Crystal Lake
- Rice Lake
- Lost Island Lake
Mississippi River backwaters are a super popular destination for ice anglers! While there are several areas to choose from, below are the top picks:
- Mississippi River backwaters
- Bussey Lake
- Mud Lake
- Sunfish Lake
- Lost Grove Lake
- Storm Lake (northwestern Iowa)
- Greenfield Lake
- Black Hawk Lake
Southern Iowa has fewer lakes and less ice, so there are fewer options. But, Twelve Mile Creek Lake, near Creston, is an excellent spot for ice fishing in the southern half of the state.
Related: Top Lakes in Iowa: 12 Best Lakes for Recreation and Relaxation
Iowa Ice Fishing Guides
If you want an experienced angler to show you the ropes and supply the gear, a fishing guide could be the answer. Many fishing guides are in northern Iowa, but a few host fishing trips in other parts of the state.
- Wonderlich Outdoors
- Dubuque Fishing Guide
- Iowa Great Lakes Outdoors, Inc.
- Kevan Paul’s Guide Service
- Campbell Fishing Expeditions, LLC
- JTG Expeditions
- Iowa Guide Service
- Hale’s Guide Service
More Iowa Ice Fishing Resources and Links
- Iowa DNR Introduction to Ice Fishing
- Iowa DNR Ice Fishing Information
- Iowa Ice Fishing Facebook group (ice conditions, gear, and more!)
- Iowa DNR’s Fishing Maps
- Ice Fishing: The Complete Illustrated Guide